Many of America’s biggest retailers have generous price-matching policies to make consumers feel better about making a purchase without hesitation. If you buy an item at Home Depot, for example, and it goes on sale a week later, you can bring in your receipt and be refunded the difference. Many stores will also match competitors’ advertised prices.
Since stores change their prices all the time and no one wants to overpay, price-matching makes people feel better about pulling the trigger on a purchase – particularly a big one, like a snowblower or dishwasher. But the truth is, most people forget about or can’t be bothered to follow up on the refunds they’re entitled to. (Have you really gone back to Amazon.com to double-check the latest price on that coffeemaker or toy you bought last month?)
The other truth is, people are entitled to a lot of such refunds. “Nearly every retailer has a low-price guarantee, but most shoppers don’t realize they can get a refund if the price on a purchase drops,” said Eric Glyman, founder and CEO of Paribus, an app that works to secure refunds for consumers. Paribus estimates that consumers miss out on up to $15 billion a year in price-drop refunds that are rightfully owed to them.
That’s why Glyman, a 26-year-old Harvard graduate who worked retail jobs in high school, founded Paribus. The app, now owned by Capital One, reviews e-receipts in your email inbox and continually searches for price adjustments on any items you’ve purchased. When it finds a price drop, Paribus files a refund claim with the retailer on your behalf, and the money gets refunded to the credit card used to make the purchase — behind the scenes, without any effort on your part. The app also checks for rebates and missed promotional codes that could have been applied to your purchase.
Paribus is free to use, but keeps 25% of any refund it successfully recoups for you. So if the price on that coffeemaker dropped $10 the next day, and Paribus was able to secure the refund, you’d get a credit of $7.50 on your statement. The app currently works only with about two dozen online retailers, but they include some of the biggest names in shopping: Amazon, Costco, Home Depot, Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Apple, Sears, Gap, Old Navy, J.Crew, Zappos, and others.
More than 700,000 people have used the app to save millions of dollars, according to the company. Doing the math, that may only average out to about a buck or two a month for most users. But when it comes to free money, every bit helps. And it adds up — especially during the holiday season, when Paribus expects to refund its users even more than usual. “At our current rate, we’re saving people on one-fourth of their orders, almost 10% per purchase – automatically,” Glyman said in a press release.
While the company says there are multi-layered defenses embedded throughout Paribus and Capital One architecture to ensure that customer information is protected, consumers worried about security or privacy can simply create a separate email address designated for their online shopping, and allow Paribus to access only that email. (I find this strategy helpful regardless, so my personal inbox isn’t flooded with promotional emails from every retailer I’ve ever visited.)
Consumers are already on the defense against savvy online retailers, many of whom use dynamic pricing — rather sinister algorithms that automatically adjust prices depending on a user’s ZIP code, device, or browsing history – to get you to pay more for the same item. Every algorithm that works in our favor, then, is a nice tool to have.